Today would have been my father’s 58th birthday. Instead, he is gone and I am still desperately trying to piece back together my absolutely shattered heart. It seems fitting that I share my inadequate eulogy for my father here today. I’m going to be spending the day with my husband, celebrating my father with a cake I baked for him on birthdays past–a chocolate cake with cherry pie filling and whipped cream. I can’t say for sure that it was his favorite, but it was the cake he asked me for when he asked me to make him a cake. I’d also like to ask you to take a moment to remember to tell people that you love them because life is frequently unfairly short and you just cannot can’t on getting another chance.
Larry Donaghy b. August 13, 1953 d. January 28, 2011
It’s virtually impossible to sum up in a few short paragraphs all that my father was. He was 5’10”, bald and bearded and heavily muscled in a way that only comes from manual labor. He had an insatiable desire for knowledge, a ridiculous love of practical jokes and an amazingly tender heart towards children and animals. He loved beer, Hawaiian shirts, jigsaw puzzles and mystery novels. He lived very simply and was generous almost to a fault. He hated to throw anything away if there was any chance that it might be used again in any way. He was also one of the most important people in my life; one of the guideposts by which I defined myself. Without him, I am missing a rudder.
My father had large, square hands. They were always calloused from working in the fields because he frequently eschewed the many pairs of gloves he owned. A normal day in my childhood could find him operating a sawmill, chopping wood, making hay, milking goats or doing any one of a million other farm chores. Most people would have called him a man’s man, tough on the outside. What most people didn’t know was the inside his heart melted for his three little girls and it was not uncommon to see him with his beard or what little hair he had held back by plastic barrettes, braided into many tiny braids or otherwise decked out sparkly little girl accessories. He loved to tease and torment us; he would shake his wet beard over us after a shower or throw his stinky socks at us at the end of the day. One day when a friend was over, he was expounding on the joys of being an adult as he passed around that evening’s dessert–swiss cake rolls or some other Little Debbie snack cakes–and without warning he reached out and BANG! slammed his hand down on the friend’s cake, telling her he could do that because he was an adult, and that was what made being an adult great. He did also swap her mangled cake for his.
My father sang to us a great deal. While he did not sing outside the house and I can’t recall the way it sounded when he sang now, I know he sang a lot. The song I most remember him singing to me was You Are My Sunshine, which has always made me cry. He would wake us up on summer mornings by bellowing “Rise and shine and give God your glory glory”, his rich, round voice refusing to allow us to remain sleeping. He sang songs while we worked, teaching us to use them to work on the same rhythm. Frequently sung songs also included Lou Reed’s Walk on the Wild Side and Stealers Wheel’s Stuck in the Middle With You. He was a terrible dancer, but he did a great deal of that around the house too, doing what we all affectionately called “the white man shuffle.” He loved the song The Safety Dance, and when we played it at my wedding, he made a point of telling me–as he grinned–that he was so glad I’d played “his song.” He loved The Grateful Dead, Bob Dylan, Warren Zevon, Lou Reed, The Byrds, Flat and Scruggs, Arlo Guthrie and loved rock, old country, bluegrass and jazz in general.
My father was not always the most patient of men. Sometimes we argued and sometimes we yelled. I did inherit my stubborn nature from him, so it’s only natural that we butted heads every now and then. The greatest gift he ever gave me was that I have always known that my father was behind me, proud of me and ready to catch me if I fell. Even as he kept his worries and sadnesses from us, he was free with his love, hugging and telling us he loved us as frequently as he could. A phone call to him could stretch for hours. The last thing he said to me was “I love you” and as I struggle through my life without him, I can think of no better gift he could have given me.
Happy birthday Daddy. I love you more than words can say, and for you, one last time, The Safety Dance.
excerpted and adapted from a post at Letters to my Father